Oil Region National Heritage Area | The Valley that Changed the Word

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324 E Main St, Titusville, PA 16354
41° 37′ 42.149” N 79° 40′ 4.689” W

Ida M. Tarbell (b. 1857) is possibly the most famous female investigative journalist in U.S. history. A native of Erie County, Pennsylvania, Tarbell and her family moved first to Rouseville in 1860 and then to Titusville a decade later. She attended Titusville High School and went on to attend Allegheny College in Meadville, PA, graduating in the class of 1880. Following her graduation, Tarbell accepted a teaching post in Ohio, but returned home after two years. Back in Pennsylvania, she accepted a position as a journalist at “The Chautauquan” magazine where she learned to write for an audience.

Tarbell honed her journalism skills at “The Chautauquan” for seven years before moving to “McClure’s Magazine” where she wrote “The History of the Standard Oil Company.” This serialized article was published over two years beginning in 1902, and then as a book in 1904. Tarbell’s investigation into John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company led to antitrust lawsuits and congressional hearings. In 1911, the Supreme Court broke up the Standard Oil Trust, implementing our country’s first antitrust laws.

Today, Tarbell remains most well-known for changing the faces of the oil industry and journalism. However, during her writing career, she also penned a number of important biographies, including works on Abraham Lincoln, Madame Roland, and Napoleon Bonaparte. Tarbell also published an autobiography entitled “All in a Day’s Work” in 1939. She died in 1944 in Connecticut and is interred in Titusville’s Woodlawn Cemetery.

Ida M. Tarbell resided in her family’s home at 324 East Main Street in Titusville, PA from 1870 through 1876.

Franklin S. Tarbell, Ida’s father, built the house in 1870 with materials he salvaged from Pithole, an oil boomtown in decline. Mr. Tarbell purchased the Bonta House, one of Pithole’s most elegant and expensive hotels, for a mere $600. He razed the hotel and moved the usable materials to Titusville.

Using timber, windows, doors, woodwork, and iron brackets from the Bonta House, Mr. Tarbell built a beautiful Italianate home. The original home included a living room, dining room, spare room and one-story kitchen on the first floor while the second floor contained three bedrooms. In addition, the 1870 structure featured a third-story cupola over the front porch, a two-story east wing, and a nearly flat tin roof.

Over the years, the home experienced drastic changes. By 1898, the Tarbell family had expanded the house twice, adding a second floor over the kitchen as well as a one-story addition behind the kitchen. They also added a second floor artist’s studio at the back of the home prior to 1912. Lee and Inez Green purchased the home in 1918 and immediately remodeled it for two-family occupancy. Furthermore, in the late-1920s, the Greens removed the east wing as well as the third-floor cupola, added a hipped roof and three dormers, and constructed a Neoclassical porch across the full width of the structure. They also updated and modernized many of the home’s interior features during their 65-year ownership.

Today, Ida Tarbell’s childhood home, known as the Tarbell House, is owned by the Oil Region Alliance of Business, Industry & Tourism. Rehabilitated to its approximate 1870 exterior and 1895 interior appearance, the house interprets the history of the Tarbell family and serves as a successful example of historic preservation.

The Tarbell House

The Tarbell House, constructed in 1870, is a two-story Italianate home. In 2007, the Oil Region Alliance purchased the structure from AMC Mortgage.

Gustafson General Contracting began the exterior rehabilitation in 2009. To start, workers replaced the 1920s-era dormered roof with a new, flatter roof, returning the home to its original roofline. The crew then reconstructed the home’s original built-in box gutters, using modern stainless steel. All asphalt roofing on the rear section of the house was removed and replaced with a standing-seam steel roof and both bay windows were given new hand-soldered terne-coated steel roofs. As part of the exterior rehabilitation, the contractor also raked and repointed all of the home’s masonry, from the brick chimneys to the stone foundation. Workers also lifted and solidified the foundation under the west side bay window. The crew removed the 1920s-era front porch and using a combination of historic photos and structural clues, reconstructed the home’s original Victorian porch and veranda.

In autumn of 2010, painters restored the home’s exterior to its original color scheme. Students from the University of Pittsburgh at Titusville made improvements to the home’s landscaping by creating beds filled with lilies, daffodils, tulips, crocuses and hostas. In addition, the Titusville Shade Tree Commission planted two maple trees. In late 2011, workers constructed a Victorian-style ADA accessibility ramp on the west side of the house, completing the structure’s exterior rehabilitation.

The Oil Region Alliance began the home’s interior restoration in 2012. The Stirling Bridge Development Company installed electrical service throughout the home, including period-appropriate replica light fixtures as well as porch lights and motion detectors. The house was also fitted with fire/smoke/security systems, along with improvements in the plumbing and HVAC systems. The final steps included window restorations, plaster repair, millwork, and historically-accurate interior decoration.

In 2016, the third-floor cupola tower on the southwest corner of the building and decorative wooden trim and tall metal finial were reconstructed by Gustafson General Contracting. According to her autobiography, Ida Tarbell spent many childhood hours studying in the tower. The cupola was lifted via cranes atop the structure in June 2016, marking the official end of the restoration.

Today, the Oil Region Alliance operates the first floor of the Tarbell House as a house museum and invites the public to learn about historic preservation. The home is open for tours by appointment, for public teas, and is available for first-floor rentals to host special events. The second floor functions as a private apartment, and is therefore unavailable for public viewing.
For more information or to schedule a visit, call Oil Region Alliance at (814) 677-3152 or email info@oilregion.org. Keep up with the Tarbell House by visiting and the liking the Facebook page here.

2638 Neilltown Rd, Pleasantville, PA 16341
41° 36′ 19.714” N 79° 30′ 23.173” W

Early pioneers settled the area surrounding Neilltown in Forest County, PA during the 1790s. As the area’s population grew, itinerant circuit riders, including Catholic, Methodist, and Presbyterian ministers, visited the communities to hold religious services. In 1822, local Scotch-Irish Presbyterians organized the Concord Presbyterian Church, and in 1826, constructed a log church at Tyrell Farm (today east of Pleasantville, PA along Route 36).

The Concord Presbyterian Church adhered to the doctrine of Original Sin and held extremely plain worship services devoid of frivolous diversions like music and heat. Forbidden to work on Sunday, followers attended services the entire day. When, in 1837, the Presbyterian Church split into the Old and New Schools, the thriving congregation at Tyrell Farm remained staunchly committed to the Old School. This decision along with the simultaneous growth of neighboring communities like Pleasantville and Neillsburg (now called Neilltown) led to a steady decline in membership until the church at Tyrell Farm was finally abandoned.

During the early 1840s, the William Neill family, who were original settlers of the area, donated land for a new Concord Presbyterian Church in Neillsburg. Built during the summer of 1842, today’s Neilltown Church hosted its first sermon on September 14, 1842.

Though strict in doctrine, the church flourished until the 1860s and 1870s when the region’s oil boom drew people to the thriving towns of Pleasantville and Tidioute. Never a large congregation, the church’s membership dipped during the early 1880s, numbering fewer than 30 people.

Increased oil activity in the Neilltown area breathed new life into this Presbyterian church during the final years of the nineteenth century. In 1892, membership reached a record high of 64 people, and the Neilltown Cemetery Association was created in 1897. Neilltown Church’s style of worship changed dramatically during this period with the installation of a harmonium (pump organ) and two wood-burning stoves. The church and cemetery continued to thrive through the first two decades of the twentieth century; however, during the 1920s, Neilltown Church entered another period of decline, hosting only occasional services.

From 1929 to 1945, Neilltown Church saw regular use as the home of the American Sunday School Union. The Cemetery Association also held annual picnics during this period. In preparation for the church’s 1942 Centennial Celebration, the congregation replaced the roof, redecorated the interior, and constructed a shed to house an electric generator. On September 20, 1942, 290 people attended the two worship services marking the occasion. Despite the excitement created by the church’s Centennial anniversary, Sunday School activities and regular worship services ceased in 1945, and Neilltown Church fell into disuse.

By 1969, Neilltown Church’s deteriorated condition prompted the creation of a Restoration Committee. As its first order of business, this group replaced the church’s floor framing and decking. Beginning in 1973, the church hosted a Spring Memorial Service and an Autumn Praise and Communion Service annually. The Neilltown Cemetery Association acquired the church building from the Lake Erie Presbytery on June 4, 1983, and in September 1992, Neilltown Church marked its 150th Anniversary. The annual services at Neilltown Church were discontinued in 2003, and the Oil Region Alliance purchased the building for historic preservation purposes in 2004.

Preserving the Neilltown Church Building

The Neilltown Church, built in 1842, is a single story wooden post and beam structure located in Forest County, Pennsylvania. This Greek Revival style church contains two rooms, a narthex (39’5” wide by 8’10” deep), and a sanctuary (39’5” wide by 36’1” deep) that can seat approximately 110 people. In 2004, the Oil Heritage Region, Inc. (predecessor to the Oil Region Alliance) purchased the 1,880 square foot building for $1. The Neilltown Cemetery Association retains ownership of the parcel upon which the building sits.

The Oil Region Alliance undertook the church’s exterior rehabilitation in 2010. To start, a local contractor replaced the structure’s asphalt-shingled roof with a more historically accurate cedar-shingled roof and added a gutter system. The crew then added a new ADA-entrance at the rear of the building, including a new steel door, concrete pad, sloped approach and an aggregate walkway from a designated ADA parking space. Following the design of project architect Jeff Kidder, the contractor also reinforced the building’s north wall, replacing a rotted timber sill. To complete the project, electricity was restored to the building, a security system was installed, and the church’s original front doors were repaired and refinished with the addition of new reproduction door latches.

While working on the exterior restoration project, workers discovered two severely rotted timber sections along the top of the church’s framework. After inspecting the deterioration, the structural engineer declared the building unstable. Securing an emergency loan from Preservation PA, Inc., the Oil Region Alliance initiated rapid response repairs. Gustafson General Contracting sistered custom-made wooden bracing to the problem timbers, installed interior support poles, and added cement pads beneath each upright timber on the church’s perimeter, stabilizing the structure.

Today, the Oil Region Alliance operates the Neilltown Church as a special public events venue, which can be rented for weddings, memorial services, musical performances, and educational programs. The church is open for tours by appointment.

167 Old Bankson Rd, Oil City, PA 16301
41° 28′ 58.362” N 79° 41′ 36.732” W

John Washington Steele, more commonly known as “Coal Oil Johnny,” was the Oil Region’s prodigal son. John was born on December 12, 1843. At an early age, he and his older sister Permelia were adopted by Culbertson and Sarah “Sally” McClintock. The McClintocks were relatively well-to-do farmers living along Oil Creek in Venango County, Pennsylvania (between present day Rynd Farm and Rouseville). As a child, John attended school and church, did chores, and enjoyed hunting in the woods surrounding the farm. In 1855, Culbertson McClintock died, leaving the farm to his wife with the understanding that John would inherit it upon her death.

Following the success of the Drake Well near Titusville in 1859, oil speculators were in a frenzy to buy or lease property along Oil Creek. When oil was discovered on the property in 1862, Mrs. McClintock leased lots on her farm in exchange for oil royalties, becoming quite wealthy. During this period, John worked as a teamster hauling barrels of oil to shipping points as well as drilling machinery and materials to well sites. He also learned to pilot the flatboats that transported oil down Oil Creek to the Allegheny River. In 1864, Mrs. McClintock died from burns sustained in a fire at the house, and 20-year-old John inherited the farm, his childhood home, and the oil royalties.

At this time, John’s young bride Eleanor Moffitt Steele and their infant son, Oscar, were unwell, so they traveled to Philadelphia to seek better medical treatment. Through a series of extenuating circumstances, John embarked on a substantial spending spree in Philadelphia and New York, where “trouble and hangers-on had a way of finding him.” He squandered all his money and then some on poor business deals and extravagances like a custom carriage, flashy clothes, diamond jewelry, gold watches, cigars, and alcohol. Journalists coined the handle “Coal Oil Johnny” for him, and referred to his “friends” as “his gang.” After the money ran out and he tired of traveling with a minstrel show, John returned to Venango County, where his wife and son waited. He eventually lost his childhood home and property through bankruptcy. For a while, he returned to work as a teamster and he tried his hand at operating small retail businesses in nearby communities. Then, after trying to live a sober life in a place where everyone knew his checkered past, the Steeles moved west, first to Dennison, Iowa, until John’s reputation caught up with him, and then on to several Nebraska towns. John Washington Steele died on January 1, 1921 in Nebraska where he is buried.

John Washington Steele’s home, known as the McClintock-Steele-Waitz House, is owned by the Oil Region Alliance. It has been restored to its appearance during the 1860s, and the house interprets Coal Oil Johnny’s life as well as the early years and material culture of Pennsylvania’s oil boom.

Preservation Efforts at Coal Oil Johnny’s

The McClintock-Steele-Waitz House, constructed circa 1850, is a one-and-a-half-story, Greek Revival style, wooden peg-n-post frame building. In 1999, the Oil Heritage Region, Inc. (predecessor to the Oil Region Alliance) purchased the 1,024 square foot house from Larry and Carole Waitz for $1 plus the cast iron bathtub and the kitchen stove.

Gustafson General Contracting began the exterior rehabilitation in 2001. To start, the home was fumigated twice, removing an infestation of powderpost beetles. Workers then prepared the structure, originally located on Waitz Road, to be relocated further up Oil Creek. They stripped the house down to its original materials and then dismantled it, numbering each component. The materials were transported 0.6 miles to Rynd Farm inside Oil Creek State Park where the crew reassembled the house piece by piece. The home’s elements were used in their exact prior positions. However, the foundation stones were placed around a new, more stable cement block base.

The contractor also added other safety and security enhancements, including tarpaper behind the walls, attic and sub-floor ventilation, stronger boards sistered to original joists and beams and electric/security panels, in ways not visible to the casual observer. To complete the exterior rehabilitation, the home was painted its original color scheme, and a new front porch identical to one in historic photographs of the home was added.

The Oil Region Alliance undertook the home’s interior restoration in 2005. Gustafson General Contracting added insulation, electricity, and stove heat to the building. The crew also refinished the home’s original floors and staircase. New interior decorations, including period-accurate wall coverings and light fixtures resembling those of the 1860s-1870s, were chosen to depict what the house might have looked like after the McClintocks and Steeles came into their oil money. The Alliance has also furnished the home with historically accurate furniture and antiques.

Today, the Oil Region Alliance operates the McClintock-Steele-Waitz House as a house museum, depicting the household of an early oil producing family. The home is open for tours by appointment, and the Alliance hosts public open houses each year. Passengers on the Oil Creek & Titusville Railroad have the opportunity to view the house exterior as part of their ride. To schedule a tour of the house, contact Oil Region Alliance Historian-Educator, Jenn Burden at 814-677-3152.

For additional information about events at the Coal Oil Johnny House, visit and like the Facebook page here.

Recommended Reading: Coal Oil Johnny–His Book by John Washington Steele, 1902 (Reprinted by the Oil Region Alliance in 2006, and available for sale at the Alliance website and office).

229 Elm St, Oil City, PA 16301
41° 26′ 6.021” N 79° 42′ 28.465” W

Built circa 1910, 229 Elm Street, Oil City originally housed Oil City’s Salvation Army. Over the years, it housed a millinery and law offices. It is contributing resource # 57 in the Oil City Downtown Commercial Historic District, and is immediately adjacent to the ORA’s main office. In 2016 the ORA acquired the property and began making improvements to the building including updating the main façade and first floor interior renovations that were eventually rented as office spaces for State Senator Scott Hutchinson and the American Red Cross. Renovations to the second floor in late 2018 created space for the Oil City Main Street program, ARTS Oil City staff and additional ORA office space on the second floor. New carpeting, lighting, windows, and paint were part of the renovation as well as sprucing up the restroom and kitchen. During renovation work, the ORA retained historic features of the building, including interior molding and woodwork as well as the unique tile in the second floor restroom.

An additional office on the second story overlooking Elm Street is available for rent from the ORA. The 235-square foot office includes access to a shared restroom and kitchen. Rent includes electric, gas, water and sewer. There is also a carpet allowance. The 18×13’ space could be divided into two rooms for an additional fee, but no other build out is available. Because the space must be accessed by stairs, arrangements can be made for using conference space on the first floor of 217 Elm.

Interested parties should contact info@oilregion.org or 814-677-3152 for more information.

201 Center Street, Oil City, PA 16301
41° 26′ 2.807” N 79° 42′ 27.482” W

Built in 1894 following the devastating flood and fire of 1892 that destroyed much of Oil City’s downtown, the Downs Building is contributing resource #38 in the Oil City Downtown Commercial Historic District listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The Alliance is rehabilitating the three-story structure at 201 Center Street, Oil City that began as Patrick Downs’ saloon and became an ice cream parlor, shoe store, and office building among other small businesses.

When completed, the project will not only preserve a building of historical importance to Oil City but also provide first-story retail space directly adjacent to Oil City’s segment of the Erie to Pittsburgh Trail and residential apartments on the upper floors with wonderful views of downtown Oil City. Previous work included second and third-story window replacement including the two distinct bay window structures on the building’s second story, roof replacement, electrical service, and basement demolition and reconstruction.

Construction will continue with work on the interior and exterior renovation of the first-story retail space. In 2019, Phases 6 and 7 will rehab the first floor interior and exterior and make it usable for retail tenants including:

  • Removing old interior finishes and dividing walls to the base surfaces. Installing new interior finishes
  • Leveling floor and installing new flooring
  • Relocating the stairway to the second floor to the common area between the two retail spaces
  • Installing new HVAC
  • Installing restrooms
  • Reconfiguring entrances and windows
  • Removing old exterior finishes and installing new finishes

221 N. Washington Street, Titusville, PA 16354
41° 37′ 45.6384” N 79° 40′ 31.7388” W

Originally constructed as the home of Charles Maltby during 1863-1866, the house at 221 N. Washington Street in Titusville underwent several remodels as the residence of numerous families. Three generations of the Scheide family called it home between 1922 and 1959. The Scheide men made their money as executives in several oil companies, including Standard Oil, and spent their money collecting (and protecting) rare books including early Bibles and important documents from U.S. history.

The collection led to the most notable of the renovations at the Scheide House, the fireproof masonry library wing.

The wing was replicated at Princeton University, William H. Scheide’s alma mater, to house the more than 2,500 pieces in the collection, which he relocated to the university upon being hired as a music professor there in 1959. When Scheide passed away at age 100 in 2014, his estate transferred ownership of the collection to Princeton. Valued then at $300 million, it is the largest gift ever given to the university.

In 1959, when William H. Scheide left to work at Princeton, he donated the property at 221 N. Washington to the Titusville School District, which used it as their district administrative offices until 2016. The district office moved into space at the high school and the Scheide House was put on the market. After unsuccessful attempts to sell the property, the School Board passed a resolution to convey the Scheide House to the Titusville Historical Society on May 21, 2018. An August 27, 2018 ruling by Judge Robert Boyer of the Court of Common Pleas of Venango County authorized a two-step ownership transfer, which allowed deeds to be signed and registered September 26, 2018, making the historical society the first owner then transferring ownership to the Oil Region Alliance on the same day.

Confident an agreement would be made between the school district, historical society and the ORA, the Alliance contracted with Kidder Wachter Architecture & Design, based in Erie, to prepare a “Building Assessment and Preservation Plan for the William H. Scheide House” in Summer 2018.

Funding for this important preservation tool was provided by the National Park Service. The report was finalized in February 2019. The Preservation Plan sections include a condensed history of the building, its sequence of numerous owners and determining its period of significance (1922 – 1959), the history of building remodeling to date, verbal description and numerous photographs documenting its current physical condition, requirements for rehabilitation and recommended types of appropriate uses, a phased preservation plan including cost estimates, a maintenance plan, and numerous appendices.

Despite its core areas being more than 150 years old, the building is structurally sound. It has experienced moisture penetration in the library wing and subsidence in the eastern portion of the house. Those factors, plus a desire to come into compliance with current safety codes consistent with the pending new uses for the building, will require rehabilitation prior to ongoing occupancy. The Preservation Plan lays out recommended phases of rehabilitation, which ORA will conduct with pacing dependent on funding support secured.

The firm of Struxures, LLC based in Seneca, PA was selected in October 2018 by the Board of Directors for the Oil Region Alliance as Architect of Record for the William H. Scheide House for what is anticipated to be a several-year phased rehabilitation of the main building on the grounds.

The library wing (consisting of the library room and adjacent vestibule on the first floor) is the most historically significant portion of the house. Built in the 1920s to display and store the family’s phenomenal collection of early books and manuscripts, the fireproof masonry addition is an entirely different style and materials are contrasted with the earlier remaining portions. However, the outer brickwork has aged and water penetration effected the exterior and interior surfaces. Phase I rehabilitation tackles all aspects of the library wing, except a return to stained glass windows, which will need to wait for future memorial gifts.

Bids for Phase I Rehabilitation were opened in April 2019, and the following companies were awarded bids for the corresponding subparts. Their contracts are from May 1 through September 20, 2019.

  • Exterior Masonry – Jesse L. Fiske, Sr., LLC of Waterford, PA
  • Roof – Fuller Home Building, Inc. of Meadville, PA
  • Interior Masonry and Finishes (including cork floor for main library room) – Gustafson General Contracting of Oil City, PA

After several more phases of rehabilitation are completed, the first floor will become the Scheide Cultural Preservation Center. Decisions have not yet been made as to ORA’s preferred use of the second floor.

Scheide Cultural Preservation Center will use the library wing as a conference room, which will also contain changing art exhibits and collections of historical artifacts about the Titusville community and the Oil Region. Its use will be by a schedule with priority to organizations renting office space on site, yet also available to other entities. Besides there being a branch office for the Oil Region Alliance, area historical, artistic, dramatic, heritage-related, educational, or similar types of non-profits will have individual offices, with all tenants sharing a new first floor kitchen, the library area, hallways, restrooms, etc. It is too early to determine rents or conference room use fees.

In the central hallway and in several built-in display cases there will be displays featuring the Scheide Family and the overall history/rehabilitation of this fascinating property.

For more information, or to explore participation in the Scheide Cultural Preservation Center, please contact the Oil Region Alliance, 217 Elm Street, Oil City, PA 16301; (814) 677-3152; www.oilregion.org; or e-mail Mrs. Marilyn Black at mblack@oilregion.org.

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